The Seattle Asian Art Museum is reopening in May! Find out more about visiting »

Virtual Tour with Nana

Suzanne Ragen has been a SAM docent since 1965 and remembers when the Asian Art Museum was SAM’s only location. Since the museum has had to close for the health and safety of the public during the global pandemic, Ragen has been creating tours for her grandkids called, Nana’s Art History 101 and now she is sharing them with us. Learn more about objects in the newly renovated and expanded Asian Art Museum while you stay home with SAM.

Haniwa warrior figure

Take a moment to look at this sculpture. Who do you think he is? Why do you think he’s wearing armor? What is he standing on?

Members of the ruling royal class in Japan were buried in massive mounds in Japan 1500 years ago. These mounds were surrounded by brown terracotta figures (same clay material as our ordinary flower pots). Figures like this one were placed in these tombs to guard and honor the deceased. 

Take a closer look at the figure of the warrior.  What weapons does he carry? There’s his sword and sheath, his bow upright in his left hand and the quiver for his arrows held in his right hand. How does he protect himself? There’s his close-fitting helmet and his upper armor was originally made of laced and riveted metal strips. His sturdy leggings and his skirt may have been made of very thick leather. 

How would you describe his expression? I think he’s stoic and ready for battle. I have been asked on tours why his arms are so short.  My only guess is that made him less liable for breakage as they can be kept close to his body. What do you think? 

These warriors also had another purpose beside protecting the ruler who was buried in the mounds. The term haniwa literally means clay cylinder, which is what the warrior stands on. Do you notice the hole that’s in the middle of the haniwa? This would have been sunk into the ground to permit drainage and inhibit erosion. Haniwa were made by a special guild of potters and come in all sorts of shapes. SAM has in its collection a Haniwa Woman and a Haniwa horse. Think of the drama these figures gave to the tombs of people of rank—a tribute to their power. Imagine the awesomeness of walking toward a huge mound sheathed in smooth river rocks, sometimes encircled by a moat, surrounded by these brown haniwa figures. Wondering about the life of the person buried there.

My favorite part of this sculpture are the little carefully tied bows at his neckline and belt and on his leggings. Who would have added such a delicate personal touch? Think back for a moment to Some/One in the first installment of Nana’s Art History—the armored kimono made of steel dog tags by contemporary Korean artist Do Ho Suh. What do you notice when comparing these two warrior’s armors? Which one would you rather wear? 

Ankush (elephant goad)

In India, only kings and high royals owned elephants.  They were important for grand parades and festivals, for hunting and for battle. Imagine an elephant going into battle; it would be as effective as a tank. Elephants are very intelligent but can be volatile and dangerous; they need to be strictly controlled.

So who managed these enormous animals? They were controlled and cared for by a mahout, a man who descended from generations of elephant professionals. A  boy of mahout lineage is assigned an elephant when both are young. The boy and the elephant grow up together; they bond and work together all their lives.

The mahout’s primary tool is an ankush, or prod. It has a sharp point and a curving hook, which on this one is in the shape of a mythical dragon-like creature. This ankush is made of metals covered with gold and chunks of very precious rock crystal. It was surely ceremonial as it is quite impractical, too heavy and too valuable.

The mahout has taught the elephant a very complicated language of jabs and pokes which he administers either from sitting high up behind the enormous head with its huge flaps of ears or leading him from the ground. One source said that there are over 100 spots on an elephant, each when poked, being a particular command. Elephants have a very tough hide.

This ornate ankush was probably taken from a royal armory in India around 1850 by the director of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. It was exhibited in 1948 to honor the establishment of independent nations such as India after centuries of British rule.

If you go to India today, you can still see elephants elaborately draped in gorgeous fabrics, bejeweled and bearing ornate chair or even sofa-like saddles in royal parades, weddings or important celebrations. Look for the mahout and his ankush. Have you ever read Babar? Quite a different story.

Reduction

OK, kids. We have looked at a lot of old things. Now we are going to see a statue made in 2015.

This statue of a man in meditation pose sits in the huge main entrance hall of the Asian Art Museum, one of only two artworks in that space. (The other is on the ceiling.)  It was made by Takahiro Kondo in 2015 in Japan. Kondo uses his own body as his model, so the seated statue is about life size, 34” high. His legs are folded in the lotus position, his hands arranged in meditation mudra, eyes downcast. Try to arrange yourself in that pose. He sits above a tiled water fountain, original to the 1933 building—a perfect location as Kondo says he works with water and fire.

Kondo makes his figures from porcelain (a very fine white clay) and fires them several times with different shades of blue underglaze. Then comes his ground- breaking overglaze that is made of metals- silver, gold, and platinum that he calls “silver mist” or gintekisai. He was granted a patent for this technique in 2004. It produces the bubbled texture that you see. Look at the way the metal glaze drips and bubbles and makes beads—like water or jewels. 

Kondo made a series of these Reduction sculptures following the nuclear disaster in 2011 in Fukushima, Japan. He says that this figure is “meditating on the essence of the world,” calling attention to the causes and consequences of nuclear disasters in Japan and all the world. His work and message is in major museums all over the world.

Kondo was born in 1958 and is a 3rd generation ceramicist. His grandfather was named a Living National Treasure in Japan for his underglaze cobalt blue wares. Takahiro is carrying on his grandfather’s tradition in a very modern way, and even lives in his grandfather’s original studio in Kyoto. He graduated from university in Tokyo and got a Masters in Design from Edinburgh College of Arts. 

– Suzanne Ragen, SAM Docent

Images: Haniwa warrior figure, 6th century, Japanese, earthenware, 53 1/4 x 16 1/2 x 10 3/4 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 62.44. Ankush (elephant goad), ca. 1600 -1700, Indian , Thanjavur, Tamilnadu, steel with gilding, copper with gilding, rock crystal, 32 x 8 in., Gift of Mrs. John C. Atwood, Jr., 54.38. Reduction, 2015, Takahiro Kondo, porcelain with blue underglaze and “silver mist” overglaze, 33 7/16 x 25 9/16 x 17 11/16 in., Robert M. Shields Fund for Asian Ceramics, 2019.5, © Artist or Artist’s Estate.

SAM Creates: Poetry Inspired by Calligraphy

This art activity is part of SAM’s Look & Make Activities designed as grade-specific lesson plans for remote learning. Find more information and artworks to inspire creative learning through these activities available for download on our website in English, Spanish, and Chinese.

A Branch of the Cold Season includes both calligraphy and an image of a plum tree painted in ink. For hundreds of years, artists have practiced calligraphy, a type of decorative handwriting made with a brush or pen. Calligraphy can be a work of art on its own or it can go along with painted images. Even if someone cannot read what is written, they can enjoy calligraphy by thinking about its movement or style. The lines of calligraphy above the branches in this artwork were written by a monk, a member of a religious community. The monk’s name was Zhen. The painted plum tree was later added by the artist Yang Hui. Yang Hui gave this artwork as a gift to his friend, who was preparing to travel to a city far away. The Chinese characters, or written symbols, read: “When the plum blossoms begin to bloom. Imagine some of these nights you will be thinking of each other in the bright moonlight.” The image of a moon represents friendship and this work of art connected these two friends wherever they went. How do you stay connected to your family and friends who are far away? 

LOOKING QUESTIONS

  • What is going on in this painting? What do you see that makes you say that?
  • In this artwork, one artist wrote the words and one artist painted the image. Why do you think they were put together? How would it be different if it was just words or just the image?
  • This is a painting of a plum blossom, which often blooms in February and March. In Chinese art, plum blossoms can be related to winter or the coming of spring. What season is it right now where you are? What plants, flowers, or other parts of nature do you see often? Which plants have meaning to you and your family?

MOVEMENT ACTIVITY

Go for a walk outside! As you are walking, look closely and notice the nature around you. What trees, flowers, plants, and animals do you see? As you observe them, notice how they move. Do they sway in the wind? Do they jump around? Move closer to what you see (at a safe and respectful distance, if it is an animal). What new details do you notice when you are close up to the plants and animals? Can you move like the branches of a tree? 

ART ACTIVITY: Make Nature-Inspired Artwork & Poetry with A Friend!

What You’ll Need

  • Paper
  • Pencil
  1. Choose one of the plants or animals that you saw on your walk, or often see this season. Ask your family member or friend to do the same. 
  2. On a blank piece of paper, make a drawing of your plant or animal. You can look out your window or find a picture to draw from. You could also close your eyes, remember what it looks like, and draw from your imagination. Think about how it moves. Can you draw your plant or animal in motion?
  1. When you are finished, share your drawing with your partner. Then, switch drawings with them. 
  2. Look at your partner’s drawing and, on a separate piece of paper, create an acrostic poem with the name of the season you are in. To write an acrostic poem, you write one word up and down, then start with those letters for the beginning of the poem’s lines. Here’s an example using the “spring” as the first word: 

Sun is peeking out
Park bench
Rabbits and singing birds
I see it all
Now I move to the
Grass

  1. When you are happy with your poem, draw it into your partner’s drawing. You can put the lines wherever you want, they don’t all need to be together. Notice the style of your partner’s drawing. Is it cartoonish? Is it long and looping? Is it sharp and detailed? Try to write letters to go along with your partner’s drawing, as if the words are little drawings themselves. 
  2. Show your artwork and read your poems out loud to each other when you are done. 

KEEP LEARNING WITH A STORY

Learn about the seasons through haikus paired with clear scientific explanations in an animated read aloud of Our Seasons by Grace Lin using a free trial or join three friends as they go hiking in part one and part two of a video read aloud of The Hike by Allison Farrell.

Images: A Branch of the Cold Season, ca. 1440, Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Yang Hui with Monk Zhen of Huan’an Temple, ink on paper, 30 5/16 x 56 1/16 in. (77 x 142.4cm), Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 51.132. Photo: Paul Macapia

Virtual Tour with Nana

When the Asian Art Museum had to close due to health and safety concerns around COVID-19, Suzanne Ragen, a SAM docent since 1965, began writing what she calls Nana’s Art History 101 for her grandchildren. When Suzanne first started volunteering, Dr. Fuller was SAM’s Director and the Volunteer Park location was our only museum. She describes the reopening of the Asian Art Museum earlier this year after it’s renovation and expansion, as feeling like coming home. We are all thankful that Nana is sharing these virtual tours of SAM’s original home with us!

Story scroll of sage Bhavana

Imagine that the year is around 1850 and you live in a small Indian village where most of the people are weavers. It’s been a long hot day of work but a treat is in store for all of you this evening.  A storyteller is coming with his very long cloth scroll and he is going to tell and sing to you the story of Bhavana, the celestial weaver who wove cloth for the gods. He lights a lamp and starts to unfurl the long cloth that is wound on his bamboo poles. That’s how this object was displayed before it came to the Seattle Art Museum.

At SAM you can only see the beginning and end of the 30 yards of the story. Look at the first section and you will see the Hindu god Ganesh with his human body and elephant head. Even though most people in the original audience could not read, they would recognize Ganesh by his unique characteristics. Ganesh is the god of beginnings, so this is a good place to start our story. We’ll read the scroll from the top to the bottom.

Above Ganesh are the three main Hindu Gods—Vishnu, Shiva, and Brahma.  The story goes that the sage, or wise man, Bhavana was victorious in a great war thanks to his army of tigers. As the victor, he can marry the daughter of the sun. Many gods attend their wedding, some arriving in flying chariots. Where do you see the chariots? Keep looking down past the chariots, towards the bottom of the scroll. Bhavana is making colored dyes from his enemies’ bodies.  

You’re part of the audience and if the storyteller did a good job, you would pay him some hard-earned rupees! You might also appreciate the donor who commissioned the scrolls for your village. Look at the patch at the end of the story and you can see the name of the person who paid for the scroll.

What are some stories that you know? Who first told you these stories and how do you show them that you appreciate their storytelling?

Some/One

We are now jumping from 19th-century India to 2001 for a look at Some/One, a sculpture by contemporary Korean artist Do Ho Suh. You might not be able to tell from the image, but this is a large sculpture, taking up almost the entire gallery. It’s located in the new expansion of the Asian Art Museum, along with art from all over Asia mostly done by currently living artists.

By looking at this picture, can you tell what the sculpture is made of? There are a ton of small, silver rectangles. These are stainless steel military dog tags that soldiers wear around their necks to identify themselves. The artist commissioned a veteran, or someone who served in the military, to manufacture hundreds of these dog tags, but with made-up names. Do Ho Suh sculpted the dog tags into a kimono-like garment that would have to be worn by someone over eight-feet tall! A steel structure holds it together, covered with a glass fiber reinforced resin and rubber and copper sheets.

Do Ho Suh made this as a student when he was given an assignment to create a piece of clothing that could serve as his identity. Suh had moved to the US for school from South Korea, where every male citizen must serve at least two years in the military.  

Why do you think Suh titled this work Some/One? One reason might be that each dog tag represents an individual soldier, but as a whole they make one—the military. When you see this work in person, you’ll notice that the tags are so shiny that you can see yourself reflected in the kimono. How do you think it might feel to see yourself in this art? 

If you were asked to make a piece of clothing that reflected your identity, what would you create?

Later in our virtual tours we will look at a Japanese terra cotta soldier called a Haniwa from around 500 AD who is also wearing armor.

Fireman’s Coat

Imagine that you live in the city of Edo (now Tokyo, Japan) around 1800.  Unlike today’s Tokyo that’s filled with tall, steel skyscrapers, 200 years ago, the houses were made of wood, bamboo and paper; the floors are covered with tatami mats made of straw. These materials would be very flammable! Now, pretend you are a fireman, a highly esteemed profession. The only way to control a fire in your city is to destroy the buildings around the one that is on fire to stop the spread. When the alarm comes, you reach for a coat like this one.

The fireman’s coat is made of very thick cotton, dyed with indigo. You would soak the coat in water before going to the fire, which might make it weigh 75 pounds, but would help protect you. The outside is solid navy blue and bears your fire brigade ID. The design of the rabbits is on the inside of the coat, closest to your body—that means when you see this at the museum, the coat is displayed inside out.

Why would rabbits be on a fireman’s coat? There is a traditional Japanese story that the Man in the Moon came to earth disguised as an old starving traveler.  He met three animal friends on the road. Monkey was agile and could climb trees to bring the old man fruit.  Fox was clever and could swim and bring him fish. Rabbit could only gather grass, so he asked the old beggar to light a fire. He jumped into that fire to offer his body as a meal. The old man was so touched by Rabbit’s sacrifice that he pulled him from the fire and invited Rabbit to live with him on the moon. He is still there. Do you agree that Rabbit is an appropriate emblem of protection from fire for firemen?

Can you tell what the rabbits are doing on the coat? They are pounding rice to make mochi in the enormous pot, with steam clouds floating above them and a few plant fronds at their feet. Have you ever eaten mochi? Mochi is rice pounded into a paste, often with added water, sugar, cornstarch, and coloring, then molded into shapes. It is traditionally made in a ceremony called mochitsuki.  Mochi is especially popular around the New Year as a symbol of good fortune.

Now when you see the Man in the Moon, you might think of this story and enjoy a delicious treat.

– Suzanne Regan, SAM Docent

Images: Section of a story scroll of sage Bhavana (Bhavana Rishi Mahatmyan Patam), mid 18th century, Indian, opaque watercolor on cloth, 58 x 34 1/4 in., Gift of Leo S. Figiel, M.D., Detroit, Michigan, 76.41. Some/One, 2001, Do Ho Suh, stainless steel military dog-tags, nickel-plated copper sheets, steel structure, glass fiber reinforced resin, rubber sheets, diam. at base: 24 ft. 4 in.; height: 81 in., Gift of Barney A. Ebsworth, 2002.43 © Do Ho Suh. Fireman’s coat, 19th century, Japanese, cotton, 49 1/4 x 49 1/4 in., Gift of the Christensen Fund, 2001.417.

A Message of Solidarity

The Seattle Art Museum believes that Black lives matter and stands in support of Black families, friends, colleagues, and communities across the country as they grieve and seek justice for the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and all victims of police brutality. We mourn the lives lost and, as we say their names, we recognize that we cannot be silent.

Systemic and institutional racism pervades every corner of American life, including cultural institutions such as the Seattle Art Museum. SAM recognizes the inequities faced by Black Americans, and we acknowledge the work that SAM must do and the impact of our work on our community. Since the 2000s, SAM’s Education & Community Engagement Committee has helped guide SAM’s programming and community partnerships. We will continue to listen to this inspiring group of advocates as we make changes to better lead by example within our arts community and city to create a country where Black people and other people of color are not oppressed.

In 2017, the museum’s Equity Team and leadership integrated an equity statement of the museum’s official values into SAM’s strategic plan, which guides all we do. It reads:

We are responsive to cultural communities and experiences, and we think critically about the role art plays in empowering social justice and structural change to promote equity in our society. We are dedicated to racial equity in all that we do.

We know that we can do more. We must begin by looking at ourselves and working to uncover the structural biases within our own organization.

Art is a crucial way of sharing unique perspectives, reminding us of the past, and envisioning future possibilities. Throughout history, art has been used for education, revolution, politics, propaganda, emotions, subversion, and sharing transformative experiences. SAM believes that art always contains a message and cannot be neutral. We rely on our collection, exhibitions, and the artists we work with to reflect our institutional values and we can, and will, take tangible actions to enact necessary change in our society. 

We are committed to:

  • Striving for racial equity in our exhibitions, educational programs, hiring practices, and all activities at the museum
  • Sharing work by Black artists in our collection and in our communications. For the next week, we will not be promoting the museum on social media, in order to amplify the views of organizations, artists, activists, and individual Black voices
  • Continuing to increase the acquisition and exhibition of more works by artists of color
  • Featuring artwork by Black artists in the following exhibitions and installations in the next year:

John Akomfrah: Future History
Aaron Fowler: Into Existence
Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle
Barbara Earl Thomas: The Geography of Innocence
Storied Objects
Lessons From the Institute of Empathy

There are many ways to show support and solidarity at this moment. As a part of the Seattle art community, SAM would like to encourage you to support local Black-led arts organizations through donations and engagement. This list is by no means comprehensive and we encourage you to add to it in the comments.

SAM Connects: Naramore Virtual Art Show

Since 1985, Seattle Public Schools has held the Naramore Art Show to share the works of its arts students and to celebrate their achievements with their community. Floyd A. Naramore, whose name is honored by this exhibition, was a visionary architect who invested deeply in his community and in the education of students. He designed over 22 schools, including Roosevelt, Garfield and Cleveland high schools, and several middle school buildings.

Seattle Art Museum has been a partner in this program for many years now, providing support and promotion of the exhibition.  Around this time of year, artists and their family and friends would gather at SAM for the highly anticipated celebration and awards ceremony, normally filled with live music, refreshments, and performances. This time-honored tradition was dedicated to celebrating the creativity and excellence of each participating artist. The museum’s lobby would be abuzz with joyous chatter as students’ excitedly perused the halls looking for their art, and beaming as they saw their work—a piece of themselves hanging on the walls.

But with growing concerns of the COVID-19 global pandemic and social distancing guidelines, our small team of SPS administrators and SAM educators feared this would be the first time in over 30 years the exhibition might not be shown, at least in person. As stay home orders began, extended, and schools were forced to cancel the remainder of the school year in person, it became clear that our fears had come true. As we came to terms with this fact, we also reminded ourselves that Naramore is the culmination of a school year of hard work by art students and teachers. We were committed to creating space, where none had existed before, to honor the time, energy, and voices of young artists. Thanks to hard work from administrators across SPS, we were able to turn that desire into a reality. Naramore continues on as a virtual museum on the SPS website and includes over 200 works of art by students from across the district. The show will be on view through June 30, 2020 and can be accessed online here! Additionally, students are invited to continue sharing artwork they’ve been creating at home during quarantine on Instagram under #artistsofsps.

You are also invited to join us for the virtual celebration on Thursday, June 4th at 5:30 P.M. The celebration will include a viewing of the artwork, keynote by Superintendent Denise Juneau, student video diaries, and more! No registration required, just tune in on YouTube, stream on the Seattle School District webpage, or tune in to any local TV channels:

  • Comcast 26 (standard-def) 319 (hi-def)
  • Wave 26 (standard-def) 695 (hi-def)
  • Century Link 8008 (standard-def) 8508 (hi-def)

At this time more than ever, we need to center the creativity and insight of our young people and amplify their voices for the world to hear. From the devastation of COVID-19 to relentless police violence against black and brown people, our community is in crisis. Art has the power to express our fears and our joy; document our history; shape our dreams, and so much more.

We are forever grateful to these young people who have given us the gift of their perspective and ask that our community take the time to reflect on their wisdom and leadership, so that we can all do our parts in dismantling injustice.

Molly Cain, Baby Gun

A photo of a sculpture of a toddler-sized hand posed as if it is holding a gun

Ever since I was a kid I’ve been kinda obsessed with the dichotomy between the innocence of children and the harsh violence of guns. Things like nerf guns and videogames were fun as a kid but what are they saying about gun violence? That is what inspired my piece. I wanted to highlight the soft innocence of the toddler hand vs. the violence of the hand motion.

Remi Adejumobi, Overcoming

image of a line drawing of gun, with the top being the head of  Martin Luther King, Jr. and a rose coming out of the end

I was inspired by the idea that Martin Luther King symbolizes peace. Our society needs lass hate and violence and more peaceful thoughts and actions. The colors flower draws attention to hope, to the possibility that we can make our country a more beautiful place to live in if we support each other more and find ways to overcome our negative feelings.

Camellia Maxson, Pear

I created this piece because I wanted to show emotion in another way besides the face. I liked the idea of someone who is so angry squeezing a pear until it bruises and leaks juice. I chose markers because it is a medium I enjoy working with due to the markers quick drying nature and flat colors yet easy to blend when needed. The main challenge was drawing the hand squeezing the pear.

Ella Maurer, The Beginning

I created this piece to capture the emotions felt during the beginning of my relationship, while connecting with others who have felt similar emotions, past or present. I want to spread comfort thought knowing that others have felt caution, growing, trust, love, and more.

Art & Justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, & Ahmaud Arbery

The young girl gazes directly into the camera: serene, open, determined. Her arms cross in front of her; her hands reach for those of the other children beside her. Together, they form a chain that cannot be broken.

She is 11-year-old Quintella Harrell, as the photo’s caption notes, and she’s participating in the campaign for voting rights for Black people in Selma, Alabama, that took place in the early months of 1965. The photo was taken by Dan Budnik, who uses documentary photography as a tool for activism and to bear witness to the battle for equality. A few weeks before this photo was taken, a 26-year-old church deacon from Marion named Jimmie Lee Jackson was shot by a state trooper as he tried to shield his mother from the trooper’s nightstick, dying eight days later. Days after this photo was taken, the historic march from Selma to Montgomery, led by civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and John Lewis, would begin. The images of state troopers attacking the activists during what came to be called “Bloody Sunday” galvanized public opinion, eventually leading to the march’s safe completion on March 21—and to the passing of the Voting Rights Act.

This moment of a young girl’s perseverance is captured forever in this black-and-white photo, but it’s far from the distant past. Today, Dr. Quintella Harrell is 65 years old. How much has changed?

SAM expresses deep compassion for those seeking justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. We share in the grief, anger, and frustration that their friends, families, and Black communities are feeling, which has spread across the country and the world. SAM is committed to doing our part in the necessary work of creating racial equity. Art can play a critical role in creating structural change and equity; it deepens empathy, asks tough questions, and offers new visions for collective responses to our world. We must create that new world together.

Image: Quintella Harrell, 11 Years Old, With Other Young Voting Rights Protestors, Dallas County Courthouse, Selma, Alabama, 4 March 1965, 1965, Dan Budnik, gelatin silver photograph, 11 x 14 in. Gift of Getty Images, 2000.38 ©️ Artist or Artist’s Estate.

SAM Creates: Comic Books with Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas

Carpe Fin is a very large mural created by Haida artist Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas on handmade mulberry paper from Japan. The people of the Haida Nation are native to coastal British Columbia and southern Alaska and have occupied Haida Gwaii since time immemorial. Yahgulanaas describes his artwork as “Haida manga,” which combines many artistic and cultural traditions and styles, including Haida formline art, Japanese manga, Pop Art, Chinese brush painting, and graphic novels. 

The artist uses black shapes to outline scenes from the story, which are similar to boxes you’d see in a comic book or graphic novel. The shapes Yahgulanaas uses, like ovoids and u-shapes, are usually used in formline or frameline design, which is the common visual language across Native communities in the Northwest Coastal region. He was inspired in particular by a 19th-century headdress created by his Haida relative, Albert Edward Edenshaw, pictured below. 

The story he tells is inspired by a traditional Haida oral story and the story told by his relatives’ artwork, but set in the world that we live in today. Carpe Fin is about the relationship between humans and the ocean. A sea mammal hunter goes in pursuit of food to feed his starving community and is taken underwater to the realm of a powerful spirit. Carpe Fin makes us think about environmental issues and the connection between humans and nature. Learn more about the history of the Haida Nation.

LOOKING QUESTIONS

Take a minute to look at the artwork and take in everything that you see. Then talk about these questions with a friend or family member.

  • What’s going on in this artwork? What do you see that makes you say that? What more can you find?
  • This panel is just one part of a much larger work of art and was inspired by comic book design. How is it similar to comics that you have seen before? How is it different?
  • Who do you think the characters are in this story? What can you tell about them based on the details you see?
  • Imagine you’re in one part of this painting. What would you see? What would you smell there? What would you hear?

Art Activity: Create a comic to tell your own story.

What You’ll Need!

  • Paper
  • Pencil
  • Eraser
  • Optional: ruler, markers, colored pencils
  1. Decide on a story: Choose an interesting story that has been told to you by someone you know. Now, think about what that story would be like if it happened today with people you know. When you have an idea for your story and characters, write out the plot: a beginning, middle, and end. 
  2. Divide your paper into three parts, either by folding it or drawing lines using the ruler and a marker. For more of a Haida manga style, try creating three boxes using ovoids or u-shapes instead of squares or rectangles.
  3. Working from right to left or top to bottom (depending on how you use your paper), draw the beginning, middle, and end of your story.
  4. If you like, you can trace your lines in marker and color in your drawings. You can also add words
    to your story (consider using speech bubbles to make it look even more like a comic strip)!
  5. Don’t forget to write your name, authors and
    artists always sign their work! What title will you give this comic?

KEEP LEARNING WITH A STORY

Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas also turned Carpe Fin into a book. Buy a copy from SAM. You can read more graphic novels on Hoopla Digital and Comixology. If you’re looking for more new takes on Indigenous stories, read Tales from Big Spirit series by David Alexander Robinson or Trickster by Matt Dembicki online.

Carpe Fin (detail), 2018, Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, Haida, b. 1954, watercolor and ink on handmade Japanese paper, 6.5 x 19.7 ft., Seattle Art Museum, Ancient and Native American Art Acquisition Fund, McRae Foundation and Karen Jones, 2018.30, © Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas. Sakíi.id (headdress frontlet), ca. 1870, Albert Edward Edenshaw, maple wood, paint, and abalone shell, 6 1/4 x 5 7/8 x 2 1/4 in., Gift of John H. Hauberg, 91.1.82. Photo: Natali Wiseman.

SAM Creates: Assemble Assemblages à la Rauschenberg

In his original Cardbirds, Robert Rauschenberg used discarded cardboard boxes he found on the street to create this flock of birds. Notice that he isn’t just using cardboard, but he rips the edges so the corrugation inside shows and the writing is prominently featured. These objects are supposed to feel like they were pulled out of a dumpster. By using everyday or discarded objects to make art, Rauschenberg was inviting us to rethink the value system of fine art.

Rauschenberg was an innovator, known for his works combining painting and sculpture called combines. This was a radical blending of materials and methods in the 1950s and 60s and expanded the traditional boundaries of art. Combines and assemblages are like collage but are three dimensional with found objects projecting out from the base.

Create your own assemblage

What you’ll need

  • Cardboard or other materials that can be ripped, torn, and reassembled (phone books, toothpicks, or other recycled materials like scrap wood)
  • Glue, stapler, paper clips, rubber bands
  • Scissors
  • Markers or paint
  • Pencil or pen

As a starting point go outside and observe birds or other creatures. Think about Rauschenberg’s title: Cardbirds. Base your creation on something you see outside.

Consider cutting up cardboard pieces in preparation so there is a large assortment of sizes and textures. Peel off the top layer over the corrugated cardboard to show its interesting texture.

Gather your materials and take some time to arrange them in different ways. Think about pattern and texture as you let the materials speak to you, they will have their own story. Leave the evidence of their previous life visible, notice how Rauschenberg used the existing words “Turkey” or “Frozen” stamped on the cardboard.  What history do your objects have? Can it help inform the work you’re making? 

Next, use simple shapes to represent the animal or object you saw outside. Try cutting out or ripping ovals, triangles, and rectangles as well as organic shapes.

As you assemble your work try using a variety of attachment techniques, slot cuts are the simplest: cut straight into two separate pieces and slot them into each other at opposite angles. Layer and stack pieces together thinking about the use of symmetry as well as asymmetry, to create unity and interest. Glue objects together and allow time to dry or set. Consider painting with gesso or clear acrylic to help unify the piece. 

Make a few versions of your object or invite a friend to collaborate. Collaboration was an ongoing practice for Rauschenberg who said, “Ideas are not real estate.”

 We would love to see the artwork you make while you #StayHomeWithSAM!

– Lynda Harwood-Swenson, SAM Assistant Manager for Studio Programs  

We are humbled by the generosity of our donors during this unique time. Your financial support powers SAM Blog and also sustains us until we can come together as a community and enjoy art in the galleries again. Thanks to a generous group of SAM trustees, all membership and gifts to SAM Fund will be matched up to $500,000 through June 30!

Images: Cardbird III, 1971, Robert Rauschenberg, collage of corrugated cardboard, tape, offset photolithograph, and screen print, 35 1/2 x 36 in., Gift of the Robert B. and Honey Dootson Collection, 81.62.2 © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. Natali Wiseman.

Community Questions: What Equity-Related Content Are You Consuming?

SAM locations are closed but we continue to center diverse voices in everything that SAM does. The SAM Equity Team has asked the staff to share their voices in reflections on how equity and community continuously shape the work of the museum, despite our inability to physically gather at this time. This week, we answer this important question: What social justice-/equity-related content are you consuming during this time and why? 

Yaoyao Liu, SAM Museum Educator, Asian Art Museum

A prominent Asian American film festival is offering virtual (free!) screenings, panels, and programs during May: Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. I’m particularly excited to tune in for And She Could Be Next, a documentary mini-series about women of color organizers and political candidates across the United States. Another recommendation especially for SAM staff and SAM Blog readers is Mele Murals. Here’s a summary from the web: “Mele Murals is a documentary about the transformative power of art through the unlikely union of graffiti and ancient Hawaiian culture. At the center of this story are the artists Estria Miyashiro (aka Estria) and John Hina (aka Prime), and a group of Native Hawaiian youth from the rural community of Waimea, HI.”

Priya Frank, SAM Associate Director for Community Programs

Priya Frank points at the TV featuring Becoming with Michelle Obama

I am unashamed to say that I have binge watched my way through the last few months. Instead of asking people what they did today, I must know what they are watching. What someone is watching right now is helping me understand where they are coming from, what they are obsessed with, what they hate, and it all comes back to how arts and culture are helping us through this uncharted time. Besides the British murder mysteries I’m obsessed with, these three stuck out to me and brought such joy, inspiration, and connectivity to my world. 

My Netflix Recs: 
Gentefied: I so appreciated the multigenerational perspectives, the way in which each generation’s cultural traditions and history show up, and how that translates within each generation’s ideal of what the “American Dream” looks like. They navigate clashing ideas, their love and loyalty for each other, their food, their art, and Latinx people, all while set amongst the reality of a backdrop addressing the changing neighborhood due to gentrification. It was produced by America Ferrera, and I was uplifted by her interview on Reese Witherspoon’s Shine On (also on Netflix).  

Becoming: I can’t say enough about what this documentary means to me. There are so many lessons that resonate, but the ways Michelle Obama authentically connected with people on her tour, and got to let her real self shine, is so incredible. The fact that she continues to reinvent herself is truly inspiring. She isn’t defining herself by the eight years in the White House. This doc allowed me to think about what I want my own life to look like post-COVID.  How do I want to show up for myself and for those I love? How do I show up for emerging leaders in the arts field and create space that helps folx move beyond the shadow of imposter syndrome and recognize their own greatness?  

Shine On with Reese: I was skeptical about this one, but the episodes were short enough that I was willing to try it out, and I’m so glad I did! Each episode centered around powerful womxn making change from where they are. With episodes centered around folx like Simone Askew, Dolly Parton, and Ava DuVernay, it’s a little peek into the journeys and people who influenced where they are today. My fave episode was the one with Cleo Wade and Elaine Welteroth because it reminded me of me and my BFF Jaimée in how they show up and support each other, build their dreams, and do so via slumber parties!

Noelle Vasquez, SAM Admissions Volunteer Supervisor:

Shows: Never Have I Ever

Books:

  • Betraying Big Brother: The Feminist Awakening in China – Leta Hong Fincher
  • The Poppy War – R.F. Kuang
  • Sex and World Peace – Valerie Hudson, Bonnie Ballif-Spanvill, Mary Caprioli, Chad F. Emmett
  • The Things I Would Tell You: British Muslim Women Write – Sabrina Mahfouz (editor)
  • Memoirs of a Polar Bear – Yoko Tawada

Lauren Farris, SAM Campaign Assistant

I’ve been following a local photographer and activist, Sharon H. Chang, on Instagram for awhile. During this time, I’ve found her “Safety Not Stigma,” very impactful, It’s a “portrait campaign to help combat increased racism against people of color during the pandemic, raise awareness about the disproportionate impacts of coronavirus on communities of color, and prioritize safety instead of stigma by the public,” to be . 

Images: Lauren Farris & Priya Frank